Growing up in Lugoff, South Carolina, my exposure to other cultures and even ethnicities was fairly limited. My high school was roughly half White and half Black, with a spattering of those who identified as Hispanic, and even one or two Asian students. Honestly, the largest diversity was in which denomination of church that you went to. Until I was able to get out of that environment, my worldview was largely limited to what I could see in my immediate circle, and that wasn’t very diverse at all.
After a brief stint at the University of South Carolina, I enlisted in the Navy. Once I completed boot camp, I was sent to the Defense Language Institute (DLI) in Monterey, California where I would spend the next year being immersed in a language program. This language program didn’t stop at teaching the language; we learned the music, the cuisine, the religions, the history, and much more of the culture of our languages. I was exposed to many people from all walks of life and DLI was just the beginning of that journey.
I had the opportunity to deploy afloat for the following four years, visiting places like Greece, Djibouti, Bahrain, and Oman, among others. Each place I went, there was a new culture, a new language, and new adventures waiting for me. Taking the time to speak with locals, I was able to understand what life was really like in these places and started to separate my prior beliefs from what I was actually able to observe. I experienced hospitality unlike any I’ve ever had in Bahrain. In Djibouti, I observed refugees fleeing a war-torn southern Somalia and saw the pain and fear that they had lived through. I was met by locals on the island of Crete in Greece who wanted to show me their history and culture, albeit with some very strong drinks (I highly recommend trying Tsikoudia if you’re ever there. It’s quite the experience.)
My point is that you don’t realize all the misconceptions you have about the world and its people until you actually see it. Would I ever have known that Bahrain would be my favorite country had I never gone? Likely not. My view was incredibly narrow before joining the Navy, but because of the travel opportunities it’s given me, I’ve been able to learn and begin to love so much more. The world is bigger than our city, state, or even country. We all stand to learn something from one another. You stand to grow in every aspect of your life, if only you’re willing to listen to those who walk a different path.